For the past few weeks, I’ve been highlighting the showroom designs that were created by the architectural firm SITE Inc. and commissioned by Best Products. Best went out of business in 1998, but SITE is going strong, with lead architect and founder James Wines still at the helm. What is a little sad about the whole project is that Best Products was SITE’s most steady client for 20 years, and with the destruction of most of the showrooms a large portion of SITE’s completed work no longer exists. It’s rare to see an architect’s most recognizable, signature structures almost completely removed from the landscape, but at least photographic evidence of the buildings still exists and can educate and inspire wonder. The showrooms were almost textbook illustrations of post-modern, deconstructionist architecture, and are still used as examples in art history books. So while they may be gone, they are not entirely forgotten.
|The sun sets on the Indeterminate Facade|
As a final note, perhaps the most disappointing chapter of the whole Best/SITE saga revolves around the lack of preservation efforts aimed at saving these once-celebrated buildings. The Forest Showroom was saved by a sympathetic institution. That’s it. Apart from one of the designs being saved, it appears that no one even tried to save the others. I have been able to find no evidence of failed preservation campaigns, or even news stories lamenting their destruction. The three major art magazines (Art in America, Art News, and Artforum) did not report of the destruction of the buildings, nor did The Architectural Record, a magazine that devoted considerable ink to celebrating the designs in previous decades. Not only were the SITE-designed elements removed from the structures, in many cases it seems that this was done almost immediately after Best closed its doors in the late 90s. Apart from the Indeterminate Façade, which managed to hold on until 2002, most didn’t make it to the 21st century. The SITE designed showrooms weren’t the only art-related casualties of Best’s closure. A showroom façade in Pennsylvania designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown was also dismantled. Maybe once Best Products went out of business, people didn’t want to be reminded of the failure of a company that had once been so successful. Maybe no other store or corporation would ever be able to successfully inhabit buildings that were so intrinsically linked to another company. Maybe it’s fitting that buildings designed to look like they were decaying eventually did decay. Regardless of how or why it happened, it’s important to remember that it did happen. The world moves fast, the Internet seems to move faster, and sometimes past events get left behind, creating a Cultural Ghost. When I began this series of posts a few weeks ago, I started by relating the story of my younger self seeing the buildings featured on TV, and as I got older my fading memory of that first encounter became fuzzier, almost dream-like when seen through the lens of time and nostalgia. Through these posts, perhaps I’ve been able to shed a little light on these lost buildings, confirming (to myself, and perhaps to others) that it wasn’t a dream. They did exist. They did (and I think still do) matter.
Next week, a new Cultural Ghost. It might be something you’ve never heard of before.